Messi' s striking success this year draws parallels with the great Müller


SOCCER ANGLES: Two very different types of player, but both have proved great goalscorers, writes MICHAEL WALKER

In the weeks leading up to Euro 96 in England, one of the strange but welcome preparations saw Germany choose Belfast as their base. A particular memory is of speaking to Matthias Sammer, the great Sammer, in the Culloden hotel in Holywood.

Sammer was a giant figure, on the pitch and off it and 1996 was when he was named European Footballer of the Year. Born in Dresden, his international career began with East Germany and finished with re-unified Germany. Talk of the Berlin Wall was still around the Germany set-up then.

Another memory of that German stay on the shores of Belfast Lough was being allowed to watch them train on the pitch – possibly the same one – which is now home to Harland Wolff Welders.

At the beginning of training there was a shooting exercise. There was nothing unusual in that, it’s just that the German version featured no goalkeeper. Presumably Jurgen Klinsmann was not looking bemused because he knew what was coming next: the placement of a tiny rectangle frame on the inside of each post. This was not just shooting practice, this was bottom-corner shooting practice.

Germany had included strikers such as Klinsmann, Fredi Bobic and Oliver Bierhoff in their squad – Bierhoff would go on to score the two goals that won Germany the final at Wembley against the Czech Republic.

But if there was one German this session made you think of, it was someone not there, a much older man, it was Gerd Müller – and not just because he was once an apprentice welder.

In the mind’s eye Müller always seemed to be swivelling onto the ball about six yards out and drilling it into the bottom corner.

That is a misconception judging by a look back at his goals, many of which were headers. But there were enough that found the corner of the net. There were enough because Müller was prolific. He just scored and scored and scored.

As Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger writes in Tor, a History of German football: “Gerd Müller scored with his shin, his knee and his backside, and sometimes even with his feet. He scored in cup games against lowly opposition and on the world stage marked by the best defenders there were.

“Why he did all those things has never been conclusively explained. Some people argue that his stubby build meant he had a low centre of gravity which gave him that tenth-of-a-second edge, guaranteeing he would get to loose balls first. Others claimed he ‘sensed’ what was going to happen, as if he were an animal. All of which sadly ignores the hours of practice Müller put into honing his skills.”

That practice made Gerd Müller close to perfect. Müller scored 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany, including the winner in the 1974 World Cup final. In the Bundesliga he scored 365 times in 427 matches. For Bayern Munich he scored 398 goals in all competitions. He was European Footballer of the Year in 1970. He was German Footballer of the Year twice and top scorer seven times.

But was he as good as Lionel Messi? The question arises because in 1972 Gerd Müller scored 85 goals over the course of the calendar year. Messi has 84. Müller’s is the world record and though there is something artificial about the calendar-year total it gives an indication of just how good a striker Gerd Müller was.

It feels like a pointless argument to start, whether Müller was better than Messi.

It is better to acknowledge that both are/were brilliant at what they do/did.

They are different players too, Messi is a non centre-forward in a way, Müller was a poacher. Messi runs from deep, from midfield and the wings, Müller hung around the box, waiting, hungry. And then he scored.

There are similarities, neither is tall, and both share resilience. Such is Messi’s charm and talent, the world gulped when he was taken off injured against Benfica on Wednesday night. The knock is not as bad as was feared but there is a doubt as to whether he will feature for Barca at Real Betis tomorrow night. He will then have three more Barcelona games to see if he can get past Müller’s record.

Whether Müller cares, 40 years on, is unlikely. He was so infuriated by the German FA’s attitude on the night of the ’74 final, when wives were barred from the celebrations, that he retired from international football on the spot.

He went to America, to Fort Lauderdale Strikers, then drifted and fell into alcoholism.

But Müller was rescued by Bayern Munich and has worked as a coach for the past decade. He dodges the media, so it may be a while before we hear from him on Messi.

Messi is also a reluctant public speaker. He’s probably enjoying the fact that his goals in 2012 are throwing the limelight onto Gerd Müller’s in 1972.

One of the Bhoys now Samaras makes the step up

No-one ever called Georgios Samaras the next Gerd Muller. People have called Samaras a few things down the years though.

Some of those doing the calling were Celtic fans dismayed at the apparent flakiness of the Greek.

But Samaras is doing something difficult, he is changing people’s perceptions. On Wednesday night against Spartak Moscow, he showed that he still has some way to go when tumbling with ease under the alleged challenge of Marek Suchy.

But that brought Celtic the penalty-kick from which Kris Commons blasted in the goal that put Celtic into the coveted last 16 of the Champions League.

It is a great achievement on all sorts of levels, and the focus on economics cannot be avoided.

There is the element of Neil Lennon’s development as a manager too.

But Lennon is not the only one developing and over the course of the Champions League campaign, Samaras is as significant a contributor as anyone in green.

He scored against Helsinki in the first qualifiers, he scored against Helsingborgs in the second qualifiers. In the group stage Samaras scored the last-minute winner against Spartak in Moscow and in the Nou Camp against Barcelona, it was Samaras’s header that struck Javier Mascherano on the way in to give Celtic the lead. At Benfica, Samaras scored an equaliser, though Celtic lost the game.

Samaras is 27 and in the Euros in Poland he was one of Greece’s best players.

Samaras scored another big goal then, an equaliser against Germany in the quarter-final in Gdansk.

But it is not just all about goals. Late in the game on Wednesday, Samaras held the ball, ran down the clock, retained possession, won free-kicks and generally ensured Celtic saw a nervous game out.

So, no, Georgios Samaras is no Gerd Muller, but he’s getting better, much better.

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